Saturday, June 14, 2008

Battle Of The Bands: Stipe and Co. vs Plant and Krauss


It's pretty rare that I see more than one concert in a month, so when I saw two shows within three days, I figured the only way to do them both justice was a side-by-side review.
Band

R.E.M.
Accelerate Tour

Robert Plant/Allison Krauss
The Raising Sand Revue

Blurry Overexposed Cell Phone Picture

Synopsis

80s college radio giants return to form with a new hard-rocking album determined to win-over a new generation of fans.
Heavy-metal legend teams with bluegrass diva to apply their respective talents to a smörgåsbord of roots and blues tunes.
Opening Act

The National put on a quick paced thirty minute set that impressed me with good tunes played well. They are a bit of a kitchen sink band with a violinist, trombonist and trumpet player. Several songs are intriguing enough to hunt down on iTunes.

Less to my taste was Modest Mouse whose aggressive sweaty playing was just working too hard.

Newly minted recording artist Sharon Little claims to have been waiting tables six months ago and seemed genuinely giddy to be on stage. She had a strong bluesy voice that hit both high and low notes. Her all-original music written with band-mate Scott Sax was traditional but powerful.

T Bone Burnett also had two song sent in the middle of the show. I used it for a much needed power-nap.
Stage Presence

Michael Stipe came dressed in a suit and tie that was both stylish and subversive. He has an oddly comforting politeness while introducing songs. His spastic wobbling and careening around stage is fascinating in its complete lack of pretense or grace. His endorsement of Obama drew a mixed reaction. My son who was in the cheaper seats claims it was all cheers, while where I was I heard plenty of boo’s.
Robert Plant could easily have been The Dude’s cousin with his loose casual shirt and long flowing hair. He had an air of bemused easiness and occasionally just tossed out flourishes of his rock-god trademarked moves. Allison Krauss looked ethereal in a long flowing dress and floated around the stage like an angel.

Stage Show

A series of video screens behind the stage kept a quick paced very stylized video show going. While it was very visually arresting, it was not much help for shorter audience members that couldn’t see the stage and distracted from Stipe’s mesmerizing stage moves.
A simple backdrop curtain behind the stage with rather mundane lighting effects. Video screens on either side of the stage gave plenty of clear close-ups of the performers.

Amusing Anecdote

Michael Stipe was doing some sill audience participation stuff. He asked who was there right now and claimed it was not a trick question. Then he asked who was alive in 1979 when the band got started. My wife and I looked at each other and realized that had known each other as long as REM had been around.

Robert Plant asked who had been here in 1969. He then called them liars. He had been reminded that he had played that very stage with his "old mates" over 39 years ago as the opening act for The Who. His memory of the event seemed a little fuzzy, but he did recall that they caused such a ruckus that they had to use their earnings to buy new equipment before the next show.
Highlights

Lots of hits and older songs as kept the tempo from ever flagging. Mike Mills singing “(Don't Go Back To) Rockville” got the crowd going. Beyond the hits I enjoyed “Electrolite” which I had never heard before.

“The Battle of Evermore” done as a down-tempo Celtic epic is the clear crowd pleaser. More impressive was Krauss’s fully a capella version of “Down to the River to Pray” with Plant and others singing gospel harmony back-up.
Show Length
1 hour 55 minutes2 hours even
Audience Demeanor

Ranging from distracted to obnoxious. The entire place stood the entire show which in inconvenient for shorter audience members, like my wife. The clods I talked about in this post seemed epidemic.
Polite and involved. The entire audience sat down less than a minute into the first song and stayed seated except for ovations and the last couple of numbers.

Noticeable Omissions
“The End of the World”

“Stairway to Heaven”

Other Reviews

The Washington Post had both a review in the dead trees edition and a song-by-song critique on their Post-Rock blog.
The New York Times review of the Madison Square Garden show applies here as well.

Verdict

REM puts on a big show, but big acts draw disinterest fans and rowdy audiences. It's almost not worth the trouble.

It's great to see a legend in action. Plant's voice is as strong as it ever was, but it would have been better to hear more material that made it famous.



BlatantCommentWhoring™: Which show would you have rather seen (and for Courtney, which did you prefer)?

7 comments:

DemetriosX said...

I think I'd have given both of these a pass. I've never been a big REM fan. I liked some of their early stuff, but somewhere between "Stand" and "Losing My Religion" they lost it. They got really repetitive and I can only take so much of Michael Stipe's whiny voice.

While I'm a big blues fan, I have zero love for Mr. Plant. I like Zeppelin occasionally, but a traumatic viewing of "Song Remains the Same" out me off of the idea of ever seeing them live. Also, I am offended by Plant, convicted of plagiarism at least twice, whining that David Coverdale sings like him.

yellojkt said...

Plant did make a remark that making the Raising Sand album taught him that there were more singers out there than Howlin' Wolf.

HRH Courtney, Queen of Everything said...

Unfortunately, I had to sacrifice the R.E.M. ticket, which made me sad, as I love the National and was looking forward to seeing them as much as anything. Part of my whole social universe collapsing in on itself weekend, which has sucked royally. So, obviously, I no longer have a basis for comparison, but Plant/Krauss was incredible.

cathouse teri said...

Definitely Plant and Krauss for me.

LOVE the photos in the previous post. Gorgeous family. :)

Jeff said...

Loving the side-by-side (as usual).

Hey, Happy Dad's Day Yellojkt!

Anonymous said...

I want to see Plant and Krauss. Love their CD. I saw Alison Krauss last summer and had a great time. She looks and sings like an angel, but she has a funny side to her that I found surprising and delightful. I saw Plant eons ago (in Baltimore) with Led Zeppelin, when Stairway to Heaven was new. I prefer the Battle of Evermore. I like REM, too, but mostly the older stuff. So, if you make me pick, it would be Plant/Krauss. Thanks for the reviews!

mostlylurking

2fs said...

I'd loved to have seen either show - but I have to make my usual (and occasionally argument-provoking) comment that Led Zeppelin was NOT NOT NOT "heavy metal." Not even early heavy metal (a la the first few Black Sabbath albums). Certainly, they share much with the early-metal gene pool musically...but Zeppelin shares few traits with metal both in its early flowerings (Black Sabbath again) and in its later development (nearly all of which I can't stand). Zeppelin only rarely use power chords (open fifths), for example, more commonly relying on single-note riffs (doubled in bass) to provide power in their louder songs. And when they do use power chords ("Whole Lotta Love" comes to mind), the tone is scrappier, almost proto-punk in its attack. Zeppelin is rhythmically far lighter on its feet, even in lumbering, powerful tracks like "When the Levee Breaks." The earliest Led Zeppelin does share some traits (as I noted) with proto-metal stuff like Blue Cheer...but once heavy metal became its own beast, Zeppelin rarely sounded anything like it.

Anyway: hard rock, yes. Metal? Nope, sorry - don't buy it. Never have.